Common people mostly have fickle minds; they are always guided by what they want to believe, often to their advantage. When they are worried, frightened and clueless about the future they are most vulnerable to doubt and conspiracy theories. For the last six months people all over the globe are very disturbed by the COVID 19 pandemic, not so much because of the deadly effects of the virus than the restrictions and lock-downs derailing normal life it has brought in its wake. They desperately need to go back to the sweet normal times and live happily ever after, and therefore they jump to accept and believe fully when some motivated souls offer that ‘COVID 19 is a hoax, it’s nothing more than a ‘annual influenza’. Thus the ‘doubt virus’ is created and the social media as always helps it spread-at times much faster than the killer virus. Perhaps the basic impulses for skepticism stem from the facts that more than 80% of Coronavirus positive cases are mild in nature and recover easily, only the elderly with co-morbidity are most vulnerable and that on average the death rate is low at 1 to 4% except for some countries. However, facts also show that the dead includes young people too and anyone can be infected from this most contagious virus.
The conspiracy theories originated in the United States, as always, where extraordinarily ‘democratic’ sections of the citizens opposed the lockdown and restrictions from the beginning symbolizing these with the ‘agenda’ of President Trump. Several conspiracy theories linking even the tragic murder of George Floyd started doing the rounds in the US of which we will not make a description here just to prevent vulnerable minds go through and inculcate doubts. We’d only like to mention here that this writer got a social media forward giving a link to an article by some ‘enlightened soul’ who took pains of great arguments to ‘prove’ that the pandemic is a ‘political hoax’. As we mentioned earlier a lot of vulnerable people got influenced by this, and none other than a medical surgeon of the Indian state of Assam who even lodged a FIR alleging that only a ‘annual influenza’ has been labeled as a pandemic and he wanted action against the concerned governments. This, naturally, created a chain of reactions in the state driving news channels asking the hapless common people about their ‘doubts’ on the COVID 19 infections rather than destroying the dilemma.
Now, this ‘annual influenza’ theory breaks down at the basic premise itself: if that is so then this phenomenon must be occurring every year, and why then this year should be so different! Governments need not have gone on an emergency drive to create more and more healthcare facilities including ICU beds just to tackle an annual event of flu. Then come the experiences of various affected countries and governments tackling this ‘annual influenza’ some of which we narrate below as arguments to break such kinds of fake and motivated views:
1. Let us take the example of the Chinese experiment. Ignoring a lot of conspiracy theories about China itself we just ask here why would China need absolute authoritarian measures to tackle the virus (well, even annual influenza is caused by a virus) in terms of continuous lockdown and rigorous enforcement. After being successful in keeping the infected numbers below 100,000 the country is still fearing a second outbreak, and risking its economic downswing again to prevent its spread. Its aggression against India can also be explained as a part of its apparent desperation. An annual flu cannot explain these.
2. Why would countries like UK, Italy, Spain, France, USA and Brazil suffer so much from an annual influenza that killed more than half a million so far and is still on its deadly prowls? Why would Italy reduce itself to a state of helplessness with dead bodies of Corona patients littered everywhere or why would a German finance minister commit suicide over Corona worries? How one is to account for a death rate of over 14% (seen in a few countries) for an annual influenza virus?
3. Why would the doctors and experts of the World Health Organization keep on telling ‘lies’ that the new Coronavirus is very dangerous that would probably stay for more than two years and the worst is yet to come despite whatever campaigns or actions going on or taken against it? We seemed to have accepted in the beginning that this pandemic is the biggest crisis ever faced by humankind. Now, why have second thoughts and doubts?
4. Why would countries across the world keep on taking huge risks for an economic crash with unprecedented unemployment and pave the way for a recession possibly even worse than the Great Depression? In particular, why a developing country and a most promising upcoming world power like India should risk whatever it has achieved in development so far.
5. Why is such a mad rush all over the globe to fast-track production of a vaccine against only an annual flu? At least such an intensive medical research cannot mask a hidden agenda whatever that may be.
In the last few days new cases in India have been rising at nearly 25000 per day with the only solace that daily recoveries increasing steadily and the death rate is fortunately still low; the concern being a rising positivity rate indicating community transmission. At this crucial juncture we should not pay heed to conspiracy theories and fake news. Such theories have obvious goals: to generate publicity for unknown persons or groups or to make a kill in terms of profit. For example, if a link for an article with sensational and terrifying headlines gets circulated across social media and motivated media outlets think of the kind of clicks being generated which directly translate into money.
Therefore, we must not fall prey to such propaganda at any cost. It is heartening to see that several social media platforms have taken steps to neutralize the conspiracy threads. In relation to India, we need to say here that the government should find time to brief the media frequently as it had been doing earlier to describe facts and quell doubts instead of crouching behind the rising numbers. Similarly, most respected bodies like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) should desist from publicizing dates for production of vaccines. The announcement by the ICMR that a vaccine might be made possible by 15th of August 2020 has furthered the doubts already created with even sensible people and the media asking why should the ICMR be in such a hurry. The mantra at this hour must be to fight the killer virus with the combined might of the world and to defeat it preventing its possible second wave.